Children: Child Arrangement Orders, enforcement and amendment
What is a Child Arrangement Order?
A Child Arrangements Order is an order made by the Court that can set out who a child(ren) should live with and who they should spend time with or otherwise have contact. The Order can also be very specific and set out who has contact with the child(ren) on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and Father`s day/Mother`s day.
The making of a Child Arrangements Order will be based solely on the individual facts of each case before the Court. This means that there is flexibility in making the Order work for you and your family, with the aim of reducing the animosity between all parties and having a clear document that everyone knows is agreed and should be stuck to.
What is Child Contact?
Sadly when a relationship ends and there are children involved, there can be huge animosity and disagreement between parents over contact arrangements.
Contact arrangements are the ‘agreed’ times, dates and durations of who should have contact with the child(ren). Reaching agreement after the breakdown of a relationship can be highly upsetting not only to parents but also to any child(ren) involved. Agreement will need to be reached on which parent the child will live with (known as the resident parent) and how often the other parent (known as the non-resident parent) will see the child. The time that the non-resident parent spends with the child is known as contact.
Contact can be either direct contact – ie face to face, including day or overnight stays or indirect contact, which can be via letters/calls and gifts.
Contact, where there are safety concerns, can also be supervised or supported by either an agreed family member or friend, or take place in a contact centre.
Where agreement on who should have contact/when and how long for is disputed, steps should be obtained for independent legal advice to be obtained in order.
Can I have contact with my child(ren)?
The general rule is that contact is the right of the child, not any parent or other relevant person. This means that there is an expectation that where parents have separated, the parent that the child does not live with should allow reasonable contact between the other parent and the child(ren).
Parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles and anyone with a close relationship to the child(ren) can seek to have contact with that child(ren). Where agreement cannot be reached between the parties on what contact arrangements should be put in place, independent legal advice should be obtained.
Issues with Contact
If a parent/relevant party is not sticking to an agreement that has been made in relation to contact, or circumstances have changed since a Child Arrangements Order was made, then it is important to obtain independent legal advice as to your options, such as seeking to vary the Order of enforce the Order.
What is meant by residence/’live with’ ?
Residence is the term used by the Court to describe where a child(ren) should live for either all the time, or the majority of their time. This is often required when relationships break down and parents cannot come to an agreement on who should have the child(ren) living with them, how often and when. The parent that the child(ren) lives with predominantly is known as the resident parent, the other parent will be known as the non-resident parent.
There is no standard residence agreement, each is decided on the individual case. This means that just because someone you know may an Order setting out that they have the child live with them the whole time, this does not mean that is the general rule. Orders can also be made to share residence of the child(ren).
Just because one parent is the resident parent, this does not mean that the non-resident parent does not have a say in decision making for the child(ren) especially if they also have parental responsibility.
It is advisable that a father obtain parental responsibility if they currently have not already obtained it through one of a number of ways, such as being named as father on the birth certificate, as without it important big decision can be made without their involvement.
Who can apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
In order to make an application to Court for a Child Arrangements Order you must be one of the following to be able to automatically have permission to apply:-
A parent (including a father regardless of whether he has parental responsibility)
A step-parent who has parental responsibility for the child or has treated the child as a child of the family
A guardian or special guardian
Any other person who has obtained the consent of all those with Parental Responsibility
A foster carer or relative, if the child has lived with them for at least 1 year immediately before the making of an application to court
Anyone who the child has lived with for at least 3 years within the past 5 years, and they have lived with the applicant in the preceding 3 months to when the application is made.
If you do not fall into one of the above categories, then you will first need to ask the Court`s permission to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order.
How long and how much does it typically cost?
Each case will vary in terms of costs and duration depending on a number of factors, such as the Court availability to deal with any application made and how complex the matter is. Generally, 6-9 months is the estimated length of time that proceedings would take if an application is made to Court. Should agreement between the parties be met sooner, then of course the length of the matter would be shorter and the costs incurred would be less.
For a tailored fee estimate please contact us directly so that we can assist you in seeking resolve.
If you are having difficulties with agreeing contact and living arrangements, or with them not taking place as agreed should, or your circumstances have recently changed, please get in touch with one of the excellent family team here at Lawson-West who will be happy to help you and your family find a solution. The main office telephone number is 0116 212 1000.
Enforcement and Amendment of Child Arrangement Orders
Enforcement of Child Arrangements Order specifying contact arrangements is becoming a common place issue seen daily by the Family Courts post the making of the Child Arrangements Order. All too often Child Arrangement Orders are made by the Court, in the good faith that both parents will abide by the Order, but in practice this does not happen.
Once a Child Arrangement Order specifying contact arrangement is made by the Court, if a parent does not comply with the terms of the Order, there are steps that can be taken to enforce the contact with the child(ren). All Child Arrangement Orders are made with a warning at the bottom of them setting out what could happen if both parties do not comply with the terms of the Order.
The initial steps to be taken are to try to get the other parent to accept that they must comply with the terms of the Order. This is often done via written communication, such as a letter or can even be via text messages/whatapps. If this does not help to rectify the disagreement, the next step is to obtain legal advice.
What steps can be taken?
It is always worth obtaining legal advice when you feel that a Child Arrangements Order is not being adhered to. There are a number of ways a resolution can be found, such as a letter sent by a solicitor to the parent not acting in accordance with the Order to gently remind them that the specified contact agreement, as set out in the terms of the Order, are to be complied with.
If this does not work, then an application can be made to Court to seek enforcement. The matter will be listed for a hearing for the Judge to determine the breach of the Order and a firm warning will be provided to the side not complying. Often, the Judge will express firmly to the parents that the Order is to be complied with and a further hearing date will be set to assess if contact has taken place in the interim as per the Order. In certain circumstances the Court may determine that the party who is not complying with the Order needs to pay the legal costs due to their non-compliance. The Court will see if agreement can be reached on contact arrangements.
If there continues to be a breach, then the Court has the power to make an enforcement Order imposing unpaid work requirements (community service) on the party not complying and can impose financial penalties on them also. Breaching the Child Arrangements Order is also deemed to be contempt of Court and can be punishable by way of financial penalty or imprisonment!
The Court will always take into account the welfare of the child who is the subject of the Order when making any enforcement Order.
My circumstances have changed since the Order was made – what can I do to change my contact?
When a Child Arrangements Order is made setting out what contact should be held, with who and when, it is not a suggestion as to what the contact should be, it is a legal requirement to be upheld. If a parent(s) want to vary the terms of the Order, and they agree upon the changes, this can be submitted to Court via a Consent Order. If there is disagreement then an application will need to be made to Court to vary the terms of the Order.
If you are having difficulties with contact not taking place as it should, or your circumstances have changed and you need the Order amended to reflect this, please get in touch with one of the excellent family team here at Lawson-West who will be happy to help. The main office telephone number is 0116 212 1000.